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Aziz mosque: source of controversy

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, March 7
Georgian-Turkish relations of late have been exceedingly positive, with a policy of neighbourliness in place since Georgia regained its independence in the 1990s. However, recent negotiations over the rehabilitation and reconstruction of religious sites in both countries have sparked controversy among some Georgians

Two months ago, the Georgian and Turkish governments announced an agreement in which Turkish and Georgian experts would restore two Georgian monasteries on Turkish territory, while two Georgian mosques would be rebuilt, one in Batumi and the other in Akhatsikhe. This news caused some discomfort within Georgian Orthodox circles, partially because of the exclusion of the Patriarchate from the talks, and partially because some do not want to see mosques built on Georgian soil. The Georgian leadership has supported its decision, calling for religious tolerance and reminding the country that some Georgians are Muslims, too.

The major source of controversy is the decision to rebuild the Aziz mosque in the centre of Batumi. Critics, notably the Patriarchate, suggest that this move could trigger national and religious antagonism, particularly anti-Turkish sentiment. Historically, Turkey and Georgia were antagonistic (as Turkey was the centre of the Ottoman Empire). This was one of the factors that, at the end of the 18th century, caused Georgia to seek out Russian protection. But as empires fell and Georgia regained its independence, Turkey and Georgia built solid relations, particularly in the face of Russian aggression.

On March 4, an estimate 5 000 people gathered in the centre of Batumi to protest the reconstruction of the Aziz mosque. Akhali Taoba reported that there were some Muslims amongst the mainly-Orthodox crowd, claiming that they did not want the mosque re-built because it was a symbol of Ottoman occupation.

Meanwhile, some members of the opposition have complained about religious and cultural expansion from Turkey, with Turkish names on shops and restaurants and Turkish flags flown in Adjara. Some demand that the government make public the agreement signed between two countries. The restoration of the Aziz mosque has moved from a cultural issue into a potentially political one. Hopefully the reconstruction will not prompt any unpleasant developments, which could jeopardize relations between the two neighbours.